What is FGM/C and what’s the reality for girls and women who’ve been cut?
Over the past few years, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) has become a real hot topic for the world’s political leaders and press. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to ban it. So what exactly is this practise that’s sparked so much uproar? And what’s the reality of FGM/C for the girls and women who are cut?
The term FGM/C refers to variety of different procedures that basically all involve the cutting of the female genitals. FGM/C can involve the partial or total removal of the surface of the female genitals (the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora) or the narrowing of the vaginal opening.
While there are many cultural factors tied up with the practice, it is, by definition, carried out for no medical reason or benefit.
An estimated 125 million women and girls have been cut across 29 countries. Normally, girls are cut under the age of 15 and can even be cut as babies. Rates of cutting vary according to country, though in some, they’re extremely high. In Somalia for example, 98% of women are cut.
Organisations (including the World Health Organisation and the United Nations) think that one of the major reasons FGM is so toxic is because it feeds wider social systems of sexual inequality and discrimination against women.
In terms of the physical and psychological state of women who have been cut, FGM is exceptionally damaging in the short and long term.
Risks girls and women face shortly after being cut include extreme pain, heavy bleeding, infection, damage to other nearby organs, going into shock and even death. The cutters are generally local women with no medical training. Cutters rarely use antiseptics and anaesthetics. Girls can become infected with HIV because the same tools are used in multiple procedures.
Further into the future, girls and women can face chronic pain, infertility, mental trauma, pain and loss of pleasure during intercourse and an increased risk of maternal and new-born mortality. Many women require further surgeries to re-open their vagina before sexual intercourse or child birth. Cut women are at a high risk of contracting STIs, including HIV, in the future because of increased bleeding during sex.
For personal account of surviving FGM/C, click here.
Check out the UK Government’s Girl Summit 2014 for more information on stopping FGM/C.